North Korea defiant amid harsh UN criticism

On December 7, North Korea underwent the Universal Period Review (UPR), a process which involves a review of the human rights records of all 192 UN Member States once every four years.  North Korea has become a country of special interest for the UPR process because of several reports submitted to the UN concerning the country’s grave human rights violations, including torture, forced labor camps, public execution, and violence against children and women. 

During the three hour review process, North Korea denied the existence of all human rights violations, despite Western state concerns of North Korea’s current human rights situation.  North Korea claimed the concerns were the result of bias and “unfair resolutions” regarding their country, which are discussed every year at the Human Rights Council. Several delegations spoke in support of the North Korean government.

  • Several delegations including the United States, France, Norway, Israel, and Japan expressed deep concern over human rights violations in North Korea, such as torture, prison labor camps, public executions, and violence against children and women.  The representative of France asked what measures the North Korean authorities intended to take to strengthen the promotion and protection of human rights, and recommended that the government cooperated with UN institutions and NGOs in a constructive manner.  Canada and the United States expressed their concern over the human rights situation and demanded that North Korea “cease public executions and torture.”
  • Other delegations, including China, Iran, and Belarus, Yemen, Zimbabwe, and Palestine commended the “government success on human rights” in North Korea.  China and Palestine said that “North Korea’s constitution clearly outlines necessary instruments for the promotion and protection of human rights and freedoms… [And] hopes this will allow parties to adopt an unbiased view of the country.”  Zimbabwe added that “North Korea has shown its commitment to human rights and human rights instruments.”
  • The government of North Korea asserted that certain delegations of “trying to place pressure on us for non-existent human rights violations.  The constitution of the DPRK provides the promotion and protection of human rights – none of the provisions foster human rights violations.” In response to claims of several abuses in their country, North Korea denied the existence of public executions and prison labor camps, stating that, “The conditions of prisoners are provided by the living standards of common people…To the issue of public execution, I must tell you that executing people in public is not our principle.”  On violence against children and women, North Korea said, “In my country, children and women are accorded all sorts of special protection.  Children are valued as the kings of the country, and women are valued the flowers of the country.”
  • Hungary insisted that North Korea “fulfill its obligations of the [human rights] instruments to which they are a party.”  North Korea responded, stating that delegations were discussing instruments “to which the DPRK is not a party.”

Reporting by Jana McNulty.

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